Inaugural address Karim Schelkens: The importance of religious literacy for contemporary society

- EN - NL

The decline of churchianity in the West is often hastily and without good reason seized upon to proclaim the future superfluity of religion. Christian relics, architecture or literature, for example, then become something exotic, a noncommittal part of leisure activities. Professor Karim Schelkens questions this non-committal nature. In his inaugural speech on September 22, he argues for religious literacy in the academy, with an eye on future leadership capable of understanding the sources of European and even global thought.

Proclaiming the death of religion is old news. Through the centuries theologians have been faced with "a museum gaze" on the heritage of the Christian tradition. This cutting off of historical heritage from a tradition and community is a form of reductive thinking. Not only does it reduce the living reality of religions to an exotic remnant, it also leads to ignorant opinions about rather than critical knowledge of.

Just this lack of knowledge is problematic in the current context for several reasons. From a traditionalist angle, religion is deployed in the social debate to oppose change and development. Such a marriage between restorative political and religion-preserving agendas calls for caveats.

Popular view of secularization

But questions can also be raised about the popular view of secularization as a necessity. The idea that religions will inevitably disappear worldwide is increasingly dismissed by philosophers, sociologists and voices from postcolonial studies as a Northwest European projection onto the rest of the world.

This gives food for thought about our knowledge of and dealings with the Christian past. In his inaugural speech, Schelkens, citing historical thinkers, statistical data and ongoing research, argues for a responsible view on the history, actuality and future persistence of religion in the social field. If universities value the containment of illiteracy in times of disinformation, this speech presents them with the challenge of fulfilling their social mission by helping to preserve and guard the quality of self-reflection of philosophical traditions.